17 June 2010

The Fifth Estate

In my last posting I made reference to the fourth estate - the media, and the important rôle it plays in functioning democracies. Like each of its counterparts - the legislature, the judiciary and the executive, it is important for a healthy democratic society that these remain distinct, in fact as well as in appearance. Few would debate the fact that we are a long way off from this ideal, currently, in Jersey. There is no clear separation of powers between the judiciary and the legislature, with the anachronistic throw back to feudalism that sees the Bailiff preside as Chair of the States Assembly, where he can silence elected members, interpret standing orders, rule questions and propositions out of order and in so doing influence which laws do or don't get passed (of course his decisions will be laid out by standing orders - but they, in turn, are open to interpretation: his interpretation...). He also sits in Judgement, just a few metres away on the laws which he oversaw being made...

But this is not the subject of this blog. There is something else in many (usually larger) democracies that exists, that serves to hold the government to account in its own unique, but highly effective way. Something that I like to call the fifth estate. I am talking about satire. Political satire, to be more precise.

I have always been an avid fan of satire, parody and, I admit it, the surreal and the absurd. There is something about these forms of comedy (perhaps comedy in general) that can say so much often with so few or no words; that can crystalise a truth in a way that hours of political/social analysis could not. One of the reasons for this is due to the fact that comedians have pretty much free reign to say what they want and the good ones are highly adept of finding the right word at the right time. This is in contrast to regular journalists, who have to be very careful about what they say, and how they say it.

But as well as being able to criticise politicians and so hold them to account, satire also has a cathartic effect on the viewer, providing a necessary break from the frustrations we all have with certain aspects of society, wherever we live. For me, few people do that better than David Mitchell (see David Mitchell's Soapbox)

It is perhaps not surprising that I have a particular penchant for political satire, so I was delighted last night when someone introduced me to the tranchant, subversive and - most importantly - hilarious antics of the political activist Mark Thomas. Like Michael Moore (though not taking himself so seriously), he combines radical (and courageous) activism with much needed comic relief. He concurrently stirs up indignance in the viewer and laughter, highlighting serious issues along the way.

I hope you enjoy these two videos as much as I did.

Mark Thomas Vs The MOD

Mark Thomas Vs. McDonalds


  1. Stuart and I met Mark Thomas a few months ago. He's currently busy with the Palestinian problem, but watch this space....

  2. Did you see the David Frost programme on satire on TV (BBC3)?

    I mention it at:

  3. Tony the Prof,

    I did not catch that, but I will check out your blog and maybe view it on bbci. Was it good?

  4. Tony T. That's good to know. Do you think we can bring him over here?

    You know, I've just been watching that McDonald's one again. It is brilliant farce. I love the way he ask for a 'beef'burger and emphasises the beef...

  5. Montfort.

    Could I point your readers to this video?

  6. Hilarious, loved Spitting Image! I watched David Frost Tony, laughing, you can watch it via iplayer at this link http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00srhgn/Frost_on_Satire/


  7. Jacques ChartierFriday, 18 June, 2010

    Nice one Monty.

  8. aaahh yes I love Mark Thomas. But I think the best of all is Jello Biafra :D

  9. Great article. Not simply the Jersey part, but the whole concept of getting audiences to 'propose their own policies' and then vote on them afterwards.

    Clearly, the words are meant in jest- just like the other proposals

    - "anyone who sells homeopathic remedies should be allowed homeopathic treatment only if they have a major illness".

    and 'Mecca bingo halls should be made to face east.'

    So, no, I do not favour an actual invasion of Jersey. One would like to think we are able to sort out our own issues ourselves, but constructive advice from elsewhere should always be welcome

  10. One of the problems with the "establishment" view in Jersey is that they seem to have an excessive horror of satire, irony, even wit that is well outside that which one may find elsewhere in the big wide world. At the root is an extreme insularity of consciousness - even educated, experienced, people, exposed to the all pervading insularity in our society, will tend to put their integrity, broad-mindedness and ability to see the bigger picture into their metaphorical attic for a quiet stable prosperous life, like 21st century Dorian Grays
    Dorian Gray.